Candomblé-A Unique Religion

Calandus, a religious practice known today as Candomblé, is an African-Brazilian religion that originated from the forced imposition of the Catholic religion on African slaves during the colonial era. This religion is a blend of both Catholic and African spiritual practices, comprising of elements of the dominant European religion and African spiritual beings. Candomblé can be found in the areas of West Africa relating directly to slave trade routes and in Bahia, where African influences are most strongly represented in Brazil. Yoruba culture[1] is alive in Bahia where the religion of Candomblé is practiced.

The traditions found within the religion are primarily of African in origin. Even though the slaves who were taken from Africa were stripped of every aspect of their day-to-day lives, they still managed to transfer their culture and belief system to the New World. Through a combination of memory and personal experience, enslaved Africans brought with them “fragments of culture” and these created the unique Candomblé religion. As a result, African music, dance, language, and cuisine is very prevalent on the Latin American cultural landscape.

Many of the rituals associated with Candomblé are built on the foundation of Catholic chants, prayers, and incantations evoking God. The core components of Candomblé include a religious system of worship, rituals, and ceremonies. The purpose of Candomblé is to provide the believer with a sense of human purpose and to provide a sense of understanding around the experience of suffering. Those involved attend weekly masses with the hope of gaining not only spiritual guidance but a sense of social cohesion generated through shared African customs and concepts. The aim of Candomblé worship is to create a bond between its religious followers and the African gods known as orixas. Rituals are used to create a connection and ultimately an interaction between the two worlds.

Candomblé is best described as a three-tier system. The belief in a supreme creator that is inaccessible is identified as the first tier. The second tier comprises deities that create a connection between the distant creator gods and humans, and on the third tier are mortal men and women. Service and devotion are expressed through household altars, chants, prayers, dancing and drumming, means by which mortals may communicate with the deities. In the many sacred spaces associated with Candomblé that are known as the iles axes each individual member’s  status, prestige and privileges that are related to serving the orixa gods are signified through coded styles of clothing, color, and social behavior.

Religious activities are carried out by a practitioner known as the bablorixa. The bablorixa is responsible for leading healing, devotional, and initiation ceremonies that tend to consist of drumming, chanting, dancing, animal sacrifice, divination, and the spirit possession of practicing members. The most important aspect of the bablorixas role is to preserve the religious secrets kept solely within the bablorixas domain. These secrets include the knowledge of how to collect, prepare, and administer consecrated plants. Sacred leaves and plants are often used for spiritual and medical purposes. These are often ingested in the form of tea, but may also be poured over the body. Religious leaders have been known to go out of their way to import Old World plant species from Africa in an attempt to preserve their culture’s ethno-flora.

As the Candomblé religion continues to develop with advances in society and technology, the purity of the religious practice has become an issue. There is a group, known as the Candomblé Nago, who make it their mission to preserve “pure” African ideas with the goal of maintaining the religious rituals of the Yoruba-speaking peoples of West Africa. This group feels it is essential to separate, and ultimately eliminate the Catholic components that are interwoven with Candomblé religion.

Paradoxically, to outsiders the practices of Candomblé may appear as a form of “black magic.” This negative view of the religion has owed itself in part to the mystery that surrounds it and the restricted number of openly active participants involved. The only public exposure the religion gains is through photographs and stereotypes portrayed in movies. Those who practice Candomblé hold firmly to the belief that their religion is something that needs to be experienced directly and without preconceived ideas or prejudice. Images have a presence and as a result hold power. Out of a fear of misrepresentation, pictures and videos are often not permitted during ritual ceremonies. Exceptional, artist Mario Cravo Neto has captured Candomblé in Brazil through the lens of his camera. His show titled “Mario Cravo Neto: A Serene Expectation of Light” recently in 2016 featured powerful images of Afro-Brazilian experience, black unity, and post-colonial defiance centering on Candomblé as a cultural practice.

1Candombe-Figari-1921Early twentieth century, artist Pedro Figari (1861-1938) captured the religious movement imaginatively through painting. Many believe that his paintings depict accurately the Candomblé religion to the rest of the world. Pedro Figari was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. Growing up, Figari observed the Afro-Uruguayan community which ultimately inspired him to create over 4,000 paintings motivated by his youthful memories of those practicing Candomblé. Hence a lack of pictures or representations relates back to a struggle of control. Who is free to take pictures? What do the images show or communicate? Which agenda do they illustrate? What purpose do they serve? On a further note about images: As mentioned previously, Afro-Brazilian religion is associated with religion blending between African beliefs and European religion. Powerful priests and intellectuals hold firmly to the traditional belief that Candomblé shrines should not contain Catholic images. These individuals believe that Candomblé and Catholicism are two different things and as such should be kept separate. Candomblé shrines are also considered very personal, with the shrine itself often hidden in the individual’s backyard away from the public eye.


Andrew Mandaliti


[1] For more information on Yoruba culture, refer to this link

Works Cited

Katz, Naomi. “Brazil’s Sisters of the ‘Good Death’,” Ms, 3:3 (Nov. 1992): 78.

 Parés, Luis Nicolau. The Formation Of Candombléì : Vodun History And Ritual In Brazil.
 Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Omari-Tunkara, Mikelle Smith. Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2005.

 Sanabria, Harry. Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2oo5.

Sansi, Roger. “Encountering Images in Candomblé,” Visual Anthropology, 26.1 (2013): 18-33.

 Voeks, Robert. “Sacred Leaves Of Brazilian Candomblé,” Geographical Review 80.2 (1990): 118.


Image:  Candombe Paintings: Pedro Figari (Candombe Paintings: Pedro Figari)

This entry was posted in Candomblé, Candomblé Nago, Figari, Mario Cravo Neto, orixa, religion, Uncategorized, Yoruba. Bookmark the permalink.

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